To solve the problem of antimicrobial resistance, the world needs not only new drugs, but also new behavior – by all seven billion of us. Because of the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, common infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis are becoming increasingly resistant to existing treatments; in some cases, they have become completely immune.
The threat is global in scale. According to the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, which I chair, drug-resistant infections kill at least 700,000 people every year. By 2050, if nothing is done to address the problem, some ten million people a year could be dying from maladies that were once treatable.
Developing new drugs is an important approach in a coordinated response to fight antimicrobial resistance. But it will not be enough. We also need to reduce our demand for antibiotics and understand that they can sometimes do more harm than good. According to one estimate, nearly half of all prescriptions for antibiotics in the United States are inappropriate or unneeded. So the steep rise in antibiotic resistance is hardly surprising.
Improving people’s understanding of the problem will be crucial to reversing this trend. Most people are either completely oblivious to antimicrobial resistance or incorrectly believe that it is an individual’s body that becomes drug resistant – not the bacteria itself. A better understanding of when to use antibiotics, and how to use them effectively, will help people use them responsibly.
Picture: By Photo by Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley, both of USDA, ARS, EMU. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons